China has the potential to become a USD 20 billion seafood import market within this decade, with rising incomes increasing domestic demand for seafood, particularly premium species, according to a Rabobank report. Whilst remaining the leading exporter of seafood globally, imports will play a key role in the future as China emerges as the leading consumer of high-end seafood in the world.
Increasing domestic demand for seafood represents a significant opportunity for all other seafood exporters - to grow imports into China - and the capture market share from China into other export markets. However the scale of growth will challenge the industry to meet the demand, with feed and supply logistics challenges to be overcome. Rabobank expects intensifying competition for primary resources, with fishing quota holders and farming license owners the likely beneficiaries of this trend.
While historically carp and other fresh water fish have driven seafood consumption in China, premium species will be responsible for consumption growth in the future. China has high income elasticity of demand for seafood, far higher than for meat, with consumption particularly sensitive to increasing incomes. Economic growth has led to more affluent consumers seeking to add novelty and prestige products to their diets. Rabobank expects salmon, along with scallops and lobster to be some of a number of Western species that will enjoy growing demand in China. Chinese salmon imports from Europe - the key supplier of Atlantic salmon to China - grew from virtually nothing in 2000 to more than 12,000 tonnes in 2011 and this growth trend is expected to continue.
Although China will remain the leading exporter for many years to come, Rabobank expects its seafood export growth to slow down in the near term, due to resource constraints and the unfavourable macroeconomic dynamics in Western markets. From a very strong compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15 percent over the last decade Rabobank expects Chinese export CAGR to decline to low single digits in the next few years.
The Chinese re-exporting industry can seek to strengthen its position in the value chain through vertical integration by acquiring Western processors of the final product or by controlling raw material supplies. Whilst there is additional opportunity to diversify into new markets such as Russia and Brazil, in the long term Rabobank expects the industry to focus on developing the domestic market for processed frozen seafood.